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The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, November 15, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0789
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(© 2023 Princeton University Press)

What keeps democracy alive? Are there patterns or clues found in democracies that have sustained themselves for hundreds of years? In a new book, historians Brook Manville and Josiah Ober argue that democracy can survive—if citizens keep vital the implicit civic bargain they make with one another. The bargain sets the norms and institutions so citizens can govern themselves, free of any kind of “boss.”

Using the history of the four longest-surviving cases of democratic rule—ancient Athens, Republican Rome, British parliamentarianism, and American constitutionalism—they examine how all developed through earlier, incremental political bargains. The resilience of democracy is then based on citizens' will and ability to keep the implicit bargain they make with one another vital and updated. Doing so is what allows them to keep governing themselves as free equals, by accepting mutual duties and agreements to keep the democracy fair and relevant.

Many citizens today doubt democracy’s viability. Causes for our democratic ills are variously asserted, but at its core, say Manville and Ober, citizens have forgotten how to deal with one another: to negotiate and bargain, and find compromise, even if imperfect, to make the choices needed to self-govern.

The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives (Princeton University Press) is available for purchase.

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